Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Saintly Al

We've been musing lately about saints who aren't really saints. Then there are those people who would never consider themselves saints, but who do make a difference in the world.

I never met Al McGuire, but I did spend time with him once. At the beginning of McGuire's final season at Marquette, he brought his Warriors to the then-newly opened Menasha (Wis.) Fieldhouse, where he held an open scrimmage. The Warriors were considered an early season favorite to win the national championship that year and eventually they did. I went to see the scrimmage with a few buddies. We were dropped off at the Fieldhouse by one of my friend's dads, and my Dad had agreed to pick us up after the scrimmage was over. We enjoyed watching the practice with about 1,000 of our closest friends, with luminaries such as Butch Lee, Bo Ellis and Jerome Whitehead cavorting over the brand new rubberized floor. After the scrimmage was over, I pulled out my dime and called home. The line was busy. I must have called about 100 times - busy every time. Eventually, we had to call my friend's dad again, who came and got us. As we were calling, increasingly frantic, McGuire and the Warriors began to emerge from the locker room, waiting for the bus that would take them back to Milwaukee. A few of the players were watching us with bemusement. Eventually, Al glanced over to us and asked, "are you boys okay?" After we assured him that we were, the team boarded their buses and returned to Milwaukee. We did get home eventually. As it turned out, my kid sister had knocked the upstairs phone off the hook and this was before an unhooked phone let out the annoying noise that it does now. My dad was too busy watching the Carol Burnett Show to notice.

That's not much of a brush with greatness, but it will do for now. The thing about Al was that he was a thoroughly secular fellow in a thoroughly secular world, yet he was the most visible representative of Marquette University during the 1970s. Al was an observant Catholic, although he tended to be a bit flippant about it. His speech was generally filled with wry observations that were fundamentally Catholic in nature. When something was done in haste, he would compare it to a summer camp Mass. A desperation heave at the basket was a "Hail Mary shot," a term that he pioneered that is now part of the sporting lexicon. But he was a basketball guy through and through, and a New Yorker who brought a decidedly Noo Yawk sensibility to his adopted home of Milwaukee. He could be, at times, Runyonesque.

But he was much more than a basketball coach, or a successful announcer, or even a successful businessman. He was, above all, a teacher and a mentor. His players came to Marquette from disadvantaged backgrounds, but he did not exploit them. When Jim Chones, his talented center, had a chance to go pro early, McGuire didn't fight it - instead, he advised Chones on how to sign a contract, what to expect as a pro and what to look out for. It's quite possible that Chones's early departure may have cost the Warriors a chance to play UCLA for a national championship, but Al didn't worry about that.

Beyond that, Al McGuire gave back to the community. He was a prime mover for the Milwaukee Athletes Against Childhood Cancer, which has supported children in Wisconsin for nearly 40 years now. He was tireless in his efforts to help others. He left enormous footprints in Milwaukee and elsewhere. He didn't look for credit for what he did - he just did it.

It was easy to overlook the good works that Al McGuire did in his life. More people remember him today for his announcing and perhaps for his clownish dancing with teams as they cut down the nets during the NCAA tournament. It wasn't his nature to look for the spotlight, even though it regularly found him. Al McGuire wasn't a saint, but he set an example that other more celebrated public saints would do well to emulate.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sainted Al

Despite the obvious presence of God in the world and the overwhelming influence of organized religion, we still manage to live in a secular world. Religion and religious belief are often a private matter in the modern world; many treat their faith in the same way they would treat a politically correct belief or a bunion - as something to be endured but not publicly displayed. Those who would proselytize for their faith are viewed with a certain amount of suspicion in many places. But not always.

It's hardly a novel concept to say this, but it bears repeating - even in a world that is essentially secular, people have their saints. And there are always priesthoods. Among the various priesthoods that are currently operating are those who are based in Rome, of course, but also in other places, such as suburban Los Angeles, Oslo and Stockholm. Priesthoods are responsible for teaching and defending the faith of their adherents. Catholics have long had the Jesuits, who operate universities throughout the world and who have given us formidable scholarship and, less impressively, the Inquisition.

Generally, however, the Jesuits are a spent force, especially in the battle against secularism. Go to their citadels - Marquette, Boston College, the University of San Francisco and countless others, and you will find places that defend the faith only diffidently and often with regret. If you want to find robust priesthoods, you need to look elsewhere. Like Los Angeles, Oslo and Stockholm.

There, the priesthoods are busy promulgating doctrine and faith-based nostrums. And there, the priests are busily identifying moral exemplars, those who would serve as a moral example for others. Saints. And while the priesthoods of suburban Los Angeles and Oslo are often different in their interpretations, they agree on fundamental truths. And they have both anointed a saint this year. Saint Albert of Tennessee.

For those of us who have been following the career of St. Albert, this seems a bit surprising. Gore has been a child of privilege, a lifelong politician who has spent most of his time indulging in doctrines of the Left. He has, of course, become the leading spokesman for the notion of global warming/climate change/ecocatastrophe. There is in his doctrine more than a bit of earth worship, a touch of Gaia. The moribund Jesuits used to have a name for people like St. Albert - pagan. But now his doctrine is showered with hosannas from the priesthoods and the rest of us are called to look upon St. Albert and his great works and learn from his example.

It's never a good idea to be a heretic. The Jesuits dealt rather severely with heretics in their day. But those of us who wonder about the great works of St. Albert surely are heretical, too, at least by the lights of the priesthoods of Los Angeles, Oslo and Stockholm. I am not especially worried about being burned at the stake, especially since the smoke from my prospective pyre would surely exacerbate climate change and thus I'll probably be spared the fate of other heretics. But as an adherent of an older faith, I do think that I have a responsibility to commit heresy. Especially today. As the world honors St. Albert of Tennessee, heresy is a privilege.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Saint Rocky

One of the ways you can judge a society is by looking at the members it chooses to elevate. A comment on an earlier post asks an interesting question, I think. In passing, I mentioned that my high school alma mater, Xavier High School in Appleton, Wisconsin, recently honored one of its most famous alumni, Rocky Bleier, by naming the Xavier football field "Rocky Bleier Field." An anonymous poster, whose identity I suspect I know, wrote the following:

No doubt the Rock was a great player, in high school, college and the pros, and that he served his country honorably. His public facade was shiny, but I'm not so sure of his personal life. I am pretty certain he is not a practicing Catholic. Not the ideal for which the Catholic spirit strives. But don't let that stop Xavier's secluar left from doing the sexy thing and associate yourself with a celebrity, even though Rocky probably qualifies as only a C-Lister nationally.So much for the spirit of the Knights of Columbus and all their efforts that went into building that field back in the 1970's.

Xavier is, of course, a Catholic high school. Rocky Bleier, for those who don't know, graduated from XHS in 1964 and then went on to a distinguished college career at Notre Dame. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, but before he was able to get there, Vietnam intervened. Rocky served with distinction in Vietnam and suffered a significant injury there, nearly losing his foot. After a long rehab, Rocky eventually got back to Pittsburgh, where he became Franco Harris's blocking back and was a major factor in the Pittsburgh dynasty of the 1970s. He even managed a 1,000 yard season in 1976. Since he retired from football, he's had a wide ranging career, including a long stint as a local sportscaster in Pittsburgh. These days he makes his money as a motivational speaker, drawing on his experiences in Vietnam and the NFL. He is, without question, a distinguished citizen.

But what anonymous says about Bleier has some truth to it. From what I know, he is not a practicing Catholic. I'm aware that he's had some bumps in his personal life. I don't know that you would necessarily call him a moral exemplar. So it's fair to ask if a Catholic institution should honor one of its own when the honoree has turned away from the faith.

This is a tough question - there is no doubt that Jesus calls us to live by His example and to spread the Good News. This isn't a sometime thing, either - throughout the four Gospels, Jesus challenges our complacency and calls us to share the true, difficult path. It's not negotiable.

So what to do about somone like Rocky Bleier, who has lived, at least publicly, a life that seems to model the Christian ideal, and who is clearly a man who has made sacrifices for others?

For me, the question turns on matters that are difficult to understand. I strive to understand God's will every day; while I am fervent in my belief, it is often beyond my ken to understand how God's presence in my life manifests itself. Anyone who is sincere about his faith shares such struggles from time to time; we've recently seen the publication of Mother Teresa's private journals which offer in sometimes harrowing detail the dark moments in her own faith journey. Mother Teresa managed to overcome her own doubts and fears and left enormous footprints in this world. She is probably the most obvious example of a saint that I'll encounter in my lifetime. But is it necessary, or even possible, to expect the rest of us to live up to such an example? And do we fall short when we honor others who also fall short of such ideals?

Like I said, it's a tough question. And there's more to say. But that's the next post.

Next: Secular sainthood

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Playoff Redux Edition

The first round is already over and now it's time to engage:

Xavier 31, Denmark 17 - Denmark hasn't won anything since the Peace of Westphalia, I think. And the mighty Hawks are playing on Rocky Bleier Field, so woe betide the visitors.

ACTUAL RESULT: XAVIER 28, DENMARK 7. Now all they have to do is cruise through Belgium and outflank the Maginot Line. Or maybe beat the Kettle Moraine Lutheran/New Holstein winner.

St. Norbert 56, Beloit 0 - St. Norbert is nationally ranked. My beloved Bucs are just rank.

ACTUAL RESULT: ST. NORBERT 55, BELOIT 9. The Green Knights allow my Bucs a courtesy flush, apparently. But the Bucs are still swirling the bowl.

Wisconsin 41, Indiana 27 - Back to reality for the Badgers, who face yet another pesky spread offense squad. Indiana has some weapons, but I suspect the Badgers have more, especially on their home field.

ACTUAL RESULT: WISCONSIN 33, INDIANA 3. Bucky finally seems to be playing the way they were predicted to play. Of course a trip to Columbus could disabuse me of that notion in a hurry....

Green Bay 31, Denver 21 - My beloved Packers haven't won in Denver since 1971, if I remember correctly. This time the Broncos don't appear to have a quarterback, though. The Packers do.

ACTUAL RESULT: GREEN BAY 19, DENVER 13. Turns out I was wrong - the Packers had never won in Denver. Until now, that is -- Brett Favre exorcises another ghost. Now it's time to do it in Kansas City, another place where the Packers have never won.

Local high school picks:

Mounds View 31, Roseville 24 - Roseville is better than their record, but they aren't going to beat the Mustangs. An all-District 621 final could be in the offing.

ACTUAL RESULT: MOUNDS VIEW 21, ROSEVILLE 14. The Mustangs hold up their end of the bargain.

Irondale 35, White Bear Lake 27 - The Bears (Go Bears) would usually be favored in this matchup, but Irondale has been winning games impressively all season long. Won't stop tomorrow night.

ACTUAL RESULT: WBL 23, IRONDALE 22. Go Bears, I guess. Knights had a chance to win it late, but fumbled at the WBL 12. A sad end to an otherwise excellent season.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


It's been a very busy week and I haven't had a lot of time to face my bete noire, the blank page. I have started a freelance writing gig for a company in Burnsville, a lovely suburb that's waaaaay south of me. The gig is a good one and I'll make some pretty good coin for as long as they need me, but it means a pretty grotesque commute, especially with the missing bridge forcing me onto roads that I'd normally avoid, like 94 and 280. This is also the first night this week that I haven't had a commitment - meeting on Monday, Boy Scouts on Tuesday, Faith Formation teaching on Wednesday. So I'm feeling behind a bit on things.

Facing the blank page is a given if you consider yourself a writer, and I do. While a lot of what I write on this blog is dashed off pretty quickly, I greatly value the opportunity to write and I appreciate those of you who take time to stop here. Usually I'm a little faster to get to the bullets, but here they come anyway:
  • It's been five years since Paul Wellstone and a large chunk of his family died in a horrific plane crash on the Iron Range. In the haze of nostalgia and grief that some of his followers still feel, it's easy to forget how polarizing a figure he was. Wellstone was passionate and had his charm, but as a politician he was one frequently one of the worst demagogues around. He almost never had a kind word for anyone who didn't see the world the way he did and he was quick to excoriate his opponents. If the Olympics had ever scheduled the 100 meter dash by putting a microphone and a video camera at the finish, Wellstone and Charles Schumer would have been able to beat Carl Lewis. But in a place where action is suspect and pontificating is king, Wellstone fit well. He was good enough to win two terms in the U.S. Senate. It's highly likely that if his plane hadn't gone down, he'd still be there. I firmly believe that Norm Coleman has done a much better job representing this state than Paul Wellstone ever did. And if we want to honor the memory of the late Senator, it's better to remember him for what he was and not through the gauze of hagiography.
  • I'm not sure what the Timberwolves are up to, but they keep adding guys when they need to start subtracting. Getting rid of malcontent Ricky Davis was a good move, although I'm not sure if Antoine Walker has anything left. Kevin McHale has intimated that more moves are in the offing. I hope so.
  • A word about my gig: I'm writing catalog and web copy for Northern Tool + Equipment, a fast-growing retailer steeped in testosterone. It's quite a lot of fun to extol the virtues of rivet busters and trash pumps, among other things. They sell a lot of cool stuff on their website ( and I'd recommend a visit, especially if you're in need of some really heavy equipment.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Playoff Edition

Wisconsin high school playoffs start tomorrow, so I have to pick the Xavier game early. Here ya go.

Wrightstown 31, Xavier 24. This was the team that knocked my beloved Hawks out last year and it wasn't close. This year I'm hoping it will be closer, but I' m afraid the short trip home will seem very long indeed. Hope I'm wrong.

ACTUAL RESULT: XAVIER 30, WRIGHTSTOWN 13. Xavier gets its revenge. Next up, Denmark. Or is it Luxemburg? Or Brussels? Or Lichtenstein? I'm never sure with all those place name eastern Wisconsin towns.

Oops - I picked up the paper and realized that Minnesota starts tonight, too. Mighty Irondale gets the bye, so....

Mounds View 41, Centennial 17. In about 5 years, all the little kids who are moving up into the Centennial school district will start kicking everyone's butt. But not now. This should be easy and will likely earn the Mustangs a rematch against always-dangerous Stillwater. Meanwhile, if things go according to Hoyle, Irondale will get White Bear Lake (Go Bears) in the next round.

ACTUAL RESULT: MOUNDS VIEW 21, CENTENNIAL 14. Not too impressive, but the Mustangs advance. Mounds View gets Roseville next, while Irondale gets White Bear Lake (Go Bears).

More picks later in the week!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

My son's new venture

Ben really likes this blogging thing. In fact, he's now started a second blog devoted to picking the results of upcoming games. You can find his adventures in prognosticating at:

And as it says on the site - Danny Sheridan, watch your back.


Max McGee died yesterday. I didn't get to see Max McGee play - my first memories of the Packers are from around 1969 or 1970, just after the glory years - but like most Packer fans, I really felt like I knew Max. He remained a part of the Packers long after he retired, teaming with Jim Irwin on the radio broadcasts of the team through the lean years and into the Brett Favre era. It seemed like everyone in Wisconsin used to listen to the Packer Radio Network - it was standard practice in many households to watch Packer games on television with the sound off, with a radio tuned to WTMJ or WHBY or WIBA, to name just a few stations I listened to over the years. Jim Irwin was The Voice of Wisconsin sports, but the key to the broadcasts was always Max McGee.

Max was a good ol' boy, in the best sense of the term. He and Paul Hornung had a well-deserved reputation for carousing and some of the stories tied to Max were, shall we say, a bit bawdy. But there was more to it. Max was fun to listen to and usually said something each week that would make you laugh out loud, but what made his humor work was the intelligence behind it. Max had an edge to him when he needed it - on the football field, in the broadcast booth, or in the business world. He parlayed his early restauranting partnership with Fuzzy Thurston into a multi-million dollar business empire by founding the Chi-Chi's Mexican restaurant chain that essentially introduced Mexican cuisine (and margaritas the size of birdbaths) to the Midwest. Back in the early days, going to he and Fuzzy's Left Guard restaurant was always a special occasion for those of us growing up in Appleton. My beloved stepmother Dar worked for Max and Fuzzy for years and I can still see the image of the place in my mind's eye - especially the wall covered with late 60s-era NFL helmets. In our small city, it was a reminder that we were connected, in some small way, with the Big Time.

And Max was Big Time in other ways - he gave millions of dollars and great chunks of time to charitable endeavors. If there was a good cause that needed promoting, Max would do his part and more. While Max had faded from the public eye in recent years, his legacy remains strong. RIP.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The newspaper of record

For over 100 years, the New York Times has been considered the "newspaper of record." Sometimes you've got to wonder about that. Consider the lead in this article, published today and reprinted on the Star Tribune website (

After Rush Limbaugh referred to Iraq war veterans critical of the war as "phony soldiers," he received a letter of complaint signed by 41 Democratic senators. He decided to auction the letter, which he described as "this glittering jewel of colossal ignorance," for charity, and he pledged to match the price, dollar for dollar.

If you've been following this story at all, you know two things. First, Limbaugh in no way "referred to Iraq war veterans critical of the war as 'phony soldiers.'" He was referring specifically to a guy named Jesse Macbeath, who never served in the Iraq War; in fact, he was a guy who had not been able to finish basic training. And the letter in question wasn't sent to Limbaugh; it was sent to one of his radio show's main syndicators, Clear Channel. And the letter wasn't just "a letter of complaint," it was essentially designed to put pressure on Clear Channel to take action against Limbaugh, up to and including removing him from the air. The actual addressee of the letter (Mark Mays of Clear Channel) gave the original to Limbaugh, who promptly put it up for auction on eBay, with all proceeds going to a charity that helps Marine veterans.

The good news about all this is that Limbaugh's eBay auction of the letter netted a winning bid of $2.1 million, which Limbaugh will match dollar for dollar.

You have to love the New York Times, though - the lead was nearly 100% wrong. But I guarantee that the Star Tribune won't be the only newspaper that runs this story. It's been 25 years since Don Henley sang these words, but they sure ring true:

We all know that crap is king

Especially for the newspaper of record. Feh.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Ben and Maria are at it again - they've both put up posts on their blogs. Go see how they're doing and drop them a line of encouragement in the comments section if you have a minute - they are working hard at this blogging thing:

Ben is at

Maria is at


The Management

SCHIP of Fools

Unless you've been living under a rock lately, you've likely heard about the controversy surrounding the SCHIP program, which is designed to provide health insurance for poor children. That's a fairly worthy goal and the program, under its current parameters, generally does a good job. But doing a good job is something that's generally alien to the government, so the brilliant minds of the Democratic Party decided that they should take this modest program and turn it into something that would be more to their liking, i.e., a monstrosity. So they sent a greatly enlarged version of the program to President Bush, at least partly as veto bait. Bush dutifully vetoed the bill and that gave the D's the pretext to start another round of moral preening and a series of really nasty political ads on local television and radio, mostly aimed at making Michelle Bachmann feel miserable.

Well, the veto was sustained today, which led to some really good theater in Washington. Consider this reasoned, measured response from the lovely and talented Fortney "Pete" Stark, whose California district borders that of Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

“I yield myself two minutes. Madam speaker, I, first of all, I’m just amazed that they can’t figure out — the Republicans are worried that they can’t pay for insuring an additional 10 million children. They sure don’t care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal war in Iraq. Where are you going to get that money? Are you going to tell us lies like you’re telling us today? Is that how you’re going to fund the war? You don’t have money to fund the war on children. But you’re going to spend it to blow up innocent people if he can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President’s amusement.”

I would call that unhinged, but that would be too charitable a characterization, no?

Nice to see that the Loyal Opposition is keeping its sense of perspective about things. Honestly, would you want to be President if you had to listen to stuff like that?

A modest proposal from your ol' friend Mr. D - let's have Fortney "Pete" Stark become the Democrats' chief spokesman going forward. He is, I think, the honest voice of the party. He is telling you what a lot of these folks think privately. I truly appreciate his candor. And won't you feel better when Congressman Stark and his pals actually have control of the Congress and the White House, too? Happy days are here again, y'all....

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Teachers Union Uber Alles Edition

The picks come early this week, because it's MEA week here in Minnesota and the teachers' unions have effectively decided that because they need time for their convention (i.e., vacation), that the rest of the state needs to take a vacation, too. Here we go:

Xavier 34, Freedom 24 - Once upon a time, Freedom was a sleepy little crossroads north of Appleton. These days, there are a fair number of people who live up that way. As one of Xavier's new traditional rivals, they'll be a tough match. But the mighty Hawks will prevail on the road.

ACTUAL RESULT: XAVIER 40, FREEDOM 14. In the immortal words of Kris Kristofferson, Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose.

Lawrence 24, Beloit 17
- ol' alma mater gets another chance against a beatable team. But Beloit isn't beating anyone this year. Give the nod to the Larrys, who were once a football powerhouse but not anymore.

ACTUAL RESULT: LAWRENCE 44, BELOIT 19. Another thumping. And next week my beloved Bucs get to travel to St. Norbert, the conference leaders and the most merciless set of Catholics this side of Torquemada.

Wisconsin 41, Northern Illinois 17 - A big bowl of chicken soup from DeKalb arrives for the bedraggled Badgers, last seen getting their butts kicked someplace in Pennsylvania. NIU has had some good teams in recent years, but not this year. Bucky gets a break before returning to the Big Ten.

ACTUAL RESULT - WISCONSIN 44, NIU 3. Finally, the Badgers play up to their potential. Back to reality next week against an improved Indiana squad.

Dallas 41, Vikings 28
- Since my beloved Packers are on bye this week, we turn our attention westward to the Queens. Not surprisingly, the locals are all atwitter about the performance of Adrian Peterson against Team Satan last week. This week they are stepping up in class, though. And NFL teams do adjust. Here's some sample dialogue from Irving, TX:

Dallas Coach 1: Did you see Adrian Peterson? Man, he tore up the Bears.
Dallas Coach 2: Who's the quarterback for the Vikings?
Dallas Coach 1: Tarvaris Jackson, I think.
Dallas Coach 2: That name seems familiar. Didn't his dad play shortstop for the Pirates back in the 70s?
Dallas Coach 1: No, that was Frank Taveras.
Dallas Coach 2: No, I know! Didn't his family put out that song "Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel?"
Dallas Coach 1: No, that was Tavares. Are you auditioning for the pub quiz at Keegan's, or is there a point to this particular line of inquiry?
Dallas Coach 2: Do you think this Tarvaris guy can beat us?
Dallas Coach 1: Not likely.
Dallas Coach 2: I thought so, too. Let's put nine guys in the box to stop Peterson.
Dallas Coach 1: Yep. That'll work.

They're pretty smart in Dallas. And I'm guessing that if Brian Griese can pass for nearly 400 yards against the Vikings, Tony Romo should do at least as well.

ACTUAL RESULT - DALLAS 24, PURPLE HELMETED LOVE WARRIORS 14. Turns out Adrian Peterson is human after all. Okay, Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, WCCO, KARE, KSTP, etc., etc., put down the hype and slowly back away.


Cretin-Derham Hall 34, Mounds View 17 - the Big Bad Wolf of Minnesota football comes to Arden Hills tonight. Mounds View is a good, resourceful team, but they don't have the talent to stop this juggernaut.

ACTUAL RESULT - CDH 42, MOUNDS VIEW 7 - The Raiders huffed, and they puffed, and they blew Mounds View's house down.

Irondale 41, Chisago Lakes 24
- Chisago Lakes is a high-scoring outfit and they've put up some big numbers this year. Until last week, so was Fridley. Irondale won't lose focuse tonight with a #1 seed within reach.

ACTUAL RESULT - IRONDALE 36, CHISAGO LAKES 14 - An impressive end to an impressive season. Chisago Lakes is a very good team and will make some noise in the 4A playoffs, but this may be the best Irondale team ever.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

So I picked up my copy of the Star Tribune on dead tree (bad for the environment, but old reprobates like me are creatures of habit) this morning,and saw an article from Randy A. Salas, informing me that today is the first Blog Action Day. Apparently some 15,000 bloggers are taking part to "raise awareness about environmental issues -- global warming, pollution, anything they want," according to Salas.

Far be it from me to ignore the clarion call of Blog Action Day. So I'm choosing option C - anything I want. After all, the combined voice of the other 15,000 bloggers (in a blogosphere that numbers in the millions) will be the equivalent of spitting in the ocean, despite the front page play in the Strib. Herewith, my tale of environmental awareness.

Many years ago, during my idyllic childhood in Appleton, Wisconsin, I regularly used to cross the railroad tracks on Outagamie Street. There were actually two sets of tracks - the spur that ran near Pierce Park along the river, and the main Chicago and Northwestern line that bisected the town. We used to walk along the main line from time to time as a shortcut to get downtown. One day, I think around 1979 or so, I noticed a shiny puddle of goo on the main line tracks just west of where I crossed on Outagamie Street. The puddle remained there for a long time - weeks, I think. It was clearly a spill of some sort of substance that I couldn't identify - maybe mercury, maybe something else. As my primary purpose for crossing the tracks was to get to Goodland Field, home of the mighty Appleton Foxes minor league team, I didn't pay a lot of attention to the spill.

Around that time, environmental degradation was much in the news and the federal government instituted the Superfund program, which was designed to expedite cleanup of environmental disaster areas. In those days, there was much harrumphing about places like the memorably named Love Canal, which combined the twin attributes of enviromental disaster and a pretty darned good double entendre. We heard endlessly how the Superfund program, under the auspices of the Carter-era Environmental Protection Agency, would finally clean up places like Love Canal. Since I was an impressionable teenager at the time, I probably even believed it.

Well, as the years went on, we learned a few things. First, the supposed environmental degradation at places like Love Canal were not nearly as dire as originally posited. Second, Superfund designation actually slowed cleanup of environmental problems, because such designations made the sites magnets for litigation. And the puddle of goo I'd seen on the tracks west of Outagamie Street? Turns out that it was a chromium spill and the tracks were now a Superfund site. I moved away from Appleton over 20 years ago and I don't know whatever happened with the tracks, but I know this much - it didn't make that much of a difference for the people who lived nearby. These days, I live about a mile south of another Superfund site - the Bell Pole Yards, where big pine logs are soaked in creosote and turned into telephone poles. Sometimes, when the wind is just right, you can get a whiff of the chemicals at my house. But I don't worry about it much.

Nearly 30 years later, global warming (or global climate change, or whatever) is the big story. We are three days removed from Al Gore receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for his tiresome PowerPoint presentation turned feature film. We are being told that we need to turn over vast if unspecified amounts of treasure and liberty to Mr. Gore's acolytes, many of whom were the same people who presided over the Superfund progam. Guess I'd rather go for a swim in the Love Canal.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A worthy recipient

Why the heck shouldn't Al Gore have the Nobel Peace Prize? After all, previous honorees have included such moral exemplars as Yasir Arafat, Le Duc Tho, Rigoberta Menchu and Jimmy Carter. In such company, Gore fits in quite nicely.

There's long been a fundamental difference between the Nobel Peace Prize and the other awards annually given out by the Norwegians. To earn a Nobel in chemistry, or economics, or many of the other categories, you actually have to accomplish something. Let's consider the examples of previous Peace Prize winners. Arafat was an unapologetic terrorist responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, generally in bloodthirsty and remorseless ways. Tho was a representative of a North Vietnamese regime that has the blood of millions on its hands. Menchu is an ineffectual Guatemalan politico whose life story is largely fabricated. Carter is merely the most ineffectual president in modern times. Why not add a pseudo-scientific charlatan to the mix?

At bottom, the Nobel Peace Prize is about confirming the conventional wisdom of leftists. It is useful only as a gauge for measuring the latest obsessions of the bien pensants of the West. Let Al have it - now if the Vatican starts positing Gore for beatification, then I'll get angry.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - New Original Edition

Here we go!

Xavier 34, Omro 17 - this is one of Xavier's new traditional rivalries, now that they have joined a new conference. For the uninitiated, Omro is one of several non-descript towns west of Oshkosh. It's hard to get much animosity going against a something that's non-descript. So the Hawks will simply have to settle for thrashing the unfamiliar on Rocky Bleier Night.

ACTUAL RESULT - XAVIER 51, OMRO 7 -- Rocky is proud of his Hawks; no doubt about it. Rumor has it that next time Omro shows up it will be Greta Van Sustern Day, in honor of a significantly more dubious famous alumnus of XHS.

Illinois College 27, Beloit 14 - My beloved, bedraggled Bucs hit the road for a tussle against the comically named Blueboys of Illinois College. The nickname stems from the Civil War, not from the propensity of IC students to get tangled up in cellophane. In any event, the feeble Bucs lose again, someplace in downstate Illinois. That seems to be a recurring theme for Wisconsin-based squads this year, unfortunately.

ACTUAL RESULT: IC 28, BELOIT 14. Guess the Blueboys made the extra point.

Wisconsin 24, Penn State 17 - The news reports today indicate that ancient Penn State coach Joe Paterno was involved in some sort of road rage incident recently. Give JoePa credit - guys his age usually only get angry by sitting on their porch and shouting "you punks get off my lawn" at passersby. I have no rational reason for picking the Badgers in this game. That's why they'll pull it off, likely late.

ACTUAL RESULT: PSU 38, BUCKY 7. The Badgers haven't been back to the Sun Bowl for a while; guess this will be the year.

Green Bay 31, Washington 21 - When I was growing up in Wisconsin in the 1970s, most kids I knew had a "second team" - that is, an NFL team you could root for besides the Packers, who were usually road kill with Chuck Foreman's tire treads affixed back in those days. My second team was always the Redskins, who were generally successful, and who were the sworn enemy of the evil Dallas Cowboys. Even today, decades on, I still have a soft spot in my heart for the Redskins; when the Packers play the Redskins I'm a bit torn about it. Don't get me wrong - the Packers will win this game. But the Redskins are still dangerous with Joe Gibbs at the helm, despite the odious Daniel Snyder in their owner's box. Favre throws at least 3 TDs.

ACTUAL RESULT - GREEN BAY 17, WASHINGTON 14 - Looks like Favre had a bad day but the Packers won anyway. That's actually an encouraging sign. I'm not clear whether or not the Redskins are a good team. In fact, I'm not sure the Packers are, either. But in the NFC, both are probably going to be in the playoffs, so this one was important. Now comes a bye week. Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson looks like the real deal. Will he be Eric Dickerson or Billy Sims? That's the question.

Bonus local picks:

Mounds View 41, Forest Lake 14 - Forest Lake tends to be an up and down team. This year, they're down. Should be no sweat for the Mustangs.


Irondale 24, Fridley 14 - I've learned my lesson; no picking against the Knights as they continue their magical campaign against a good Fridley squad.

ACTUAL RESULT: IRONDALE 39, FRIDLEY 6. In a season of impressive victories, probably the most impressive yet. Fridley came into this game 5-1 and came out with the worst loss they've suffered in a while. The Knights have a legitimate shot of getting the top playoff seed in their section. And on merit, too.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

New toy

I've got a new toy/to keep my head expanding
A new toy/nothing too demanding

So sang Lene Lovich way back in 1981, in sort of a new wave-ish, chanteusey sort of way. But I know how she felt, because I have a new toy myself - a new computer. We've been going back and forth about it for nearly two years now, and with our current financial situation it's perhaps not the most propitious time to make a new investment, but having the new computer will make it much easier for me to pursue things (like my seemingly interminable job search) from home, since my old computer was really old. I mean, really old. I swear the thing had vacuum tubes and said Univac on it. You know, the type of computer that was featured in the Jetsons. And I can finally allow the hamster that powered the old one to have a few weeks off.

So these words are posted courtesy of my new toy - a Toshiba Satellite laptop. My old computer had an absurd 32MB of RAM; this bad boy has 2048MB. My old computer had a whopping 1GB hard drive; this one has 200. And so on, and so on. I also no longer get my internet through the Pony Express; instead the cable boys have turned on the old internet superhighway fire hose. And my son is hungrily circling the computer even as I attempt to type this - with the high speed internet connection, he can now access all manner of brain rot much faster than before.

I do have a new free-lance writing gig for the end of the month, which will run up close to Christmas. So things are getting better. After the year we've had here in 2007, we take our victories where we can find them.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Worst. Football. Weekend. Ever.

Man, did it stink. Let's pick at the bones a bit.

First reports were out of the lovely Fox River Valley. Xavier loses to Waupaca. Okay, so you don't want to see the ol' high school lose, but there's not a lot of shame in it. Stuff like that happens, especially at a school that has seen a lot of lean years on the gridiron. But it would get worse.

Illinois 31, Wisconsin 26. Thankfully, I didn't see much of this game. What I did see was no fun at all. The Illini were dominant at times and always seemed to have an answer whenever the Badgers would rally. The only good thing was the Badgers didn't fold up once they were down 17-0. If Bucky can rebound at Penn State, the season could still be a good one. Otherwise, hello Alamo Bowl, or worse.

Ripon 56, Beloit 9. As has been pointed out in this space, Bucs rhymes with sucks. Still, you hate to see your alma mater get destroyed. The fact that this was the Beloit homecoming game makes it doubly galling. Ed DeGeorge coached at Beloit for nearly 30 seasons; this new guy has it in a shambles in only two. On the other hand, if there were any early 70s Beloit alumni in attendance at the game, the result would have been quite familiar.

Team Satan 27, Packers 20. I did see this game, pretty much in its entirety. What an opportunity wasted. The Packers were sloppy all game and their sloppiness bit them in the butt in the end. Based on what I saw, the talent gap between the two teams has now closed; arguably, the Packers may have better overall talent. This is a credit to the much-maligned Ted Thompson, who has quietly assembled a nice looking team, especially on defense. You have to give the Bears credit; under Lovie Smith, they are smart enough to accept a gift victory. There were times under previous regimes where the Packers would have gotten by with such a performance. Not now.

Was there any good news? Well, my son's prospective high school, lovely and long-suffering Irondale, pulled off the big upset, beating a formidable Benilde-St. Margaret team 13-7 on a very muddy field somewhere in the wilds of St. Louis Park. The win puts Irondale at 5-1 and on track for their best season in probably 20 years. Next up are the dreaded Fridley Tigers.

Still, not much to hang your hat on. Especially when the Illinois hordes are the ones who get the Ws. Enjoy it, FIBs!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Fearless Dilettante Football Predictions - Grudge Match Edition

Some big rivalries this week. So let's hop to it.

Xavier Hawks 34, Waupaca Comets 24 - From what I hear, this has been a pretty good rivalry lately. I don't know - when I was in school, we were playing teams like Roncalli. The game's at home, so favor the mighty Hawks.

Ripon College Politically Correct Recasting of Their Traditional Name Redmen 34, Beloit Bucs 7 - The Red Horde (Red Scourges, perhaps?) from Ripon spoils yet another homecoming for ol' alma mater. Beloit once went nearly 30 years between victories in this series. Some things never change.

Wisconsin Badgers 41, Illinois Fighting Illini 37 - Bucky has figured out how to score; good thing, too, because Illinois is a good team and this will be a tough contest on the road. I should probably say something disparaging about the Illini, but I'm feeling magnanimous. After about two decades in the wilderness, the Illini seem to have their act together. Come back Jason Verduzco, all is forgiven.

Green Bay Packers 31, Chicago Bears 17 - The vaunted Bears defense is all banged up and the Packers are pretty good at stopping the run. That means trouble for Team Satan. Figure that Bernard Berrian gets loose once and that Devin Hester does too, but that's about it. Meanwhile, Favre gets at least two more TDs against a depleted Bears secondary. Good times for now, but much work remains....

Meanwhile, in local news:

Mounds View Mustangs 34, Robbinsdale Armstrong 21 - Our green-clad heroes step out of conference against a pretty good Classic Lake team. Home field advantage should make the difference here. Note to Badger backers - Armstrong is the alma mater of new Badger kickoff man David Gilreath.

Benilde-St. Margaret Red Knights 14, Irondale Knights 10 - Hope I'm wrong about this, but Benilde is a tough outfit, especially on defense. BSM also happens to be my mother-in-law's alma mater, so I'd better tread lightly in my commentary.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Baseball's second season

Alas, neither my beloved Brewers nor the local heroes were able to fight their way into the baseball playoffs. Still, we have some fine matchups ahead. Time for a Dilettante preview.

Cubs vs. Diamondbacks - You have to give the Diamondbacks credit for their season; they have been highly successful even though their team is young and prone to mistakes. They have one outstanding starter in Brandon Webb, an excellent bullpen and some good young hitters. But that won't be enough to beat the Cubs, I think. We've done a lot of Cub bashing around here, but an objective look at the team reveals a squad that matches up very well in this series. I think the key is Ted Lilly; if he can win Game 2, the Cubs will win this matchup quickly, most likely in Chicago. Cubs in 4.

Rockies vs. Phillies - I haven't been able to see the Rockies very much, but when I have I've been impressed. Troy Tulowitzki may end up stealing Rookie of the Year away from Ryan Braun of the Brewers and Matt Holliday is one of the best players in the majors, even though I don't think he actually touched home when he scored the winning run on Monday night. His reward for lazy umpiring is a visit to Philadelphia. Can the Phillies ride their formidable lineup into the World Series, despite having Kyle Lohse in their rotation? Maybe. As a former crafty lefty (wiffle ball division), I admire Cole Hamels and the ancient Jamie Moyer a lot. Phillies in 5.

Yankees v. Indians - I have seen the Indians a fair amount this season, including twice at the Metrodome. They are a fine team with balance and two really good pitchers in C.C. Sabathia and the nasty Fausto Carmona. The Yankees fear no one, of course, and they appear to have their starting pitching squared away at precisely the right time. Their lineup, the best that money can buy, is second to none. But they'll have to win at least once in Jacobs Field. The guess here is that they won't. Indians in 5.

Angels v. Red Sox - Another matchup among members of the baseball plutocracy. The Angels come into this series beat up, without Gary Matthews Jr. The Red Sox have shelved Tim Wakefield. Which hurts more? Losing Matthews, I think. And Josh Beckett has already proven he can take the ball in the big game. Red Sox in 4.

We'll revisit this matter in about a week or so, eh?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Non-apology apologies

Pet peeve time - sorry for going into Andy Rooney mode, but I wanted to warn you up front, in case you want to find something more edifying. Otherwise, stay tuned for a rant.

To my mind, one of the most useless things in the world is the non-apology apology. You know what I'm talking about - someone says or does something that is offensive, the person offended complains, and the offender says something like this:

"I'm sorry if you're offended by that."

Not to put too fine a point on it, but what the hell does that really mean? There's no regret for the offense; in fact, it's really a second insult couched in terms of an apology. The hidden message is this - well, dummy, you shouldn't have been offended by that, but since you're such a baby about it, I guess I'll put it back on you. You're not really entitled to your feelings, anyway.

I've been thinking about this in the context of two recent events: the controversy surrounding the ad that referred to Gen. David Petraeus as "General Betray Us"; and the ginned up controversy about Rush Limbaugh allegedly calling soldiers who complain about war policy as "phony soldiers."

First, the Petraeus thing. In my view, MoveOn stepped in it by running this ad. It was intellectually shoddy at best, dishonest at worst, and clearly an insult. But having said that, it was also free speech. Immediately the calls went out for MoveOn to apologize for the ad. As of this writing, I don't think they have apologized. Any apology they would have offered would have been of the non-apology apology type anyway, so I'm glad that as of this writing they have not apologized for attacking Petraeus.

The ad clearly hurt MoveOn and its portsider allies. They received all manner of denunciations, including an official one from Congress. This was silly, of course, but it was instructive. It showed that the current Congress is a lot more interested in style points than in substance and the ad itself revealed the contempt that MoveOn has for the military. All in all, this bonfire of recriminations was perfect. And the Left was hurt by it.

Enter Limbaugh. During the course of his show last week, a caller brought up the case of Jesse McBeth, a soldier who had been drummed out of the army in basic training. McBeth had become a cause celebre on the Left because he had made a series of lurid (and false) charges about actions that soldiers had taken in the war. These charges were repeated and amplified in the news media for days before the truth came out. In discussing this matter, and a number of similar incidents, Limbaugh referred to "phony soldiers." Media Matters, which is a sister organization to (both are supported by George Soros, among other things) immediately started beating the drums and claiming that Limbaugh had insulted the troops, especially those who had served yet did not support the war. Suddenly Limbaugh was on the defensive and was facing demands from the likes of Harry Reid that he apologize for his "slur" of the troops.

Limbaugh did not apologize, of course. His quote was deliberately taken out of context and used against him. Despite that, plenty of politicians jumped on the bandwagon, including Norm Coleman, who is currently in a tight re-election campaign against the highly silly Al Franken.

I am happy that, in both instances, apologies were not forthcoming. In my mind, Limbaugh has nothing to apologize for - he clearly didn't say what Media Matters claimed he'd said. As for MoveOn, there is no doubt their message wasn't garbled - they paid for the ad in question. But in both cases, the views expressed were worth hearing.

Here's the thing about free speech - we are free to speak our minds in this country. But that doesn't mean we get a free shot; by that, I mean that a dumb or mendacious statement can backfire on you. And it should. You get in the arena - you have to expect that you're going to take some shots. Our political discourse and our political culture would be better if we stopped looking for apologies and, more importantly, stopped accepting non-apology apologies. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Here's the irony - the two politicians in this country who actually say what they mean and mean what they say the most often are probably George W. Bush and Dick Cheney - especially Cheney.

There. I said it. And I meant it. And if you're offended, no apologies.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Blue and orange blues

After an exciting and ultimately enjoyable weekend of football, Cheesehead Nation is faced with the specter of something truly ugly. Something known for corruption, venality and evil. Something that calls for a thorough horsewhipping and probably some disinfectant wipes.

That's right - it's an Illinois double-feature.

Badgers vs. Illini
Packers vs. Bears

It's sometimes difficult for Minnesotans to understand, especially Vikings fans who consider the Packers their fiercest, most hated rival. But it needs to be said - Wisconsinites harbor their greatest enmity for the precincts to the south. For Illinois.

You will get arguments among Badger fans about the school they hate the most. The longest, most traditional rivalry is with the University of Minnesota, but the Golden Rodents have been rebuilding for most of my lifetime and, generally, the Badgers have owned them since Barry Alvarez came to Madison. Some people hate Michigan or Ohio State the most, but everyone hates those schools, so there's nothing particularly special about the rivalries. Then there is the University of Illinois. The Illini are a schizophrenic amalgam of ag school hickishness and Chicago Alderman chicanery. No school has been caught cheating more often than the Illini. They have employed rogues like Mike White and Lou (Shingle Head) Henson. The Illini have been up and down, and mostly down, for a while, but under new coach Ron Zook they look like they are coming back. And the Badgers, now ranked #5 in the land, are going down to lovely Champaign with a huge target on their backs. For me, a non-alum but longtime follower of the Badgers, my personal opinion is that beating Illinois is hugely enjoyable. As the parody version of the Illinois fight song goes:

You're out of the race, Illinois
We spit on your face, Illinois

Feel the love. Then there's this beauty:

Q. What do you call a dead pig on a tractor?
A. The University of Illinois homecoming parade.

Ah, but the hatred gets turned up a notch the next day.

The Packers have been playing the Bears (a/k/a Team Satan) since the dawn of the National Football League. This rivalry has been filled with insult, injury and chest-thumping for over 80 years now. George Halas was a giant, no doubt about it, but his Bears have been villains since the league began. The Monsters of the Midway (a name stolen from the University of Chicago, by the way). There are many enduring images of the Bears, including a snarling Dick Butkus, the impossibly graceful Gale Sayers, the indomitable Walter Payton and the google-eyed Mike Singletary. Oh, the players. Meanwhile, we've sent the Alabama Antelope (Don Hutson), the Golden Boy (Paul Hornung), the Good Soldier (Bart Starr) and Ol' Number 4 (Brett Favre) into battle. So much fun. So much hatred. And so much history. With the Packers coming into the game 4-0 and the Bears suffering through a disappointing start, this one has the makings of a real war.

And now that the Brewers/Cubs rivalry is heating up, it could be open war in places like Kenosha and Waukegan, Beloit and South Beloit, Dickeyville and Galena. The jawing starts here!